William ‘Billy’ Dougal 1933 – 2014
Ship name / Flight number: Otranto
Arrival date: 19/06/1950
PART ONE: SCOTLAND
I was born on 17th December 1933 in a very small Scottish mining village called Newtongrange about 11 miles south of Edinburgh, to William (Wullie) and Mary (Mamie) Jane Pryde (nee Hamill) Dougal. I was named after my Dad, William Dougal. Most of my life in Scotland, I was known as Bill or Billy, but in Australia called myself Wayne, don’t recall why.
My Dad was born 23 August 1900 at Anchor View Dunipace, Stirlingshire, and had five brothers. The Dougals were a musical family. My Dad played the trombone in a local brass band, with his five brothers. He also played the piano, but later in life, preferred his piano accordion. His brothers played trumpet, cornet, drums, piano, and bagpipes. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit any of their musical talents, although some of Mum’s relatives insisted I could sing, and would always ask me at parties to sing, “Some Enchanted Evening” or some of Mum’s old Scottish songs, such as “I was married to a Weaver”.
Mum (always known as Mamie) was born 6th February 1908, Montrose Terrace, Lochore, Ballingry, Fife – and had five sisters and three brothers.
Before I was born, Mum had one baby they called May, who died at birth, and later she had a miscarriage. Sometime after I was born, she had a hysterectomy. To talk about these things was taboo when I was a kid. No one actually told me. I must have picked it all up listening to the relatives talk. Mum told my cousin May years later, that she had gone to the big Edinburgh hospital, and they had put a machine over her, and that was it. She was sterile from that time on. She had a stroke prior to dying and she was bad down one side. She was put into the Queen Victoria hospital in the city of Melbourne, and the doctors asked her different questions. She told them about the “hysterectomy”. They thought it was quite amazing that she did not really have an operation, but it looked like some sort of experiment for nuclear medicine. She used to say to me, “You won’t put me into a nursing home will you Billy?” Unfortunately, she had to go into one, and we were glad that cousin May owned and ran the Sunrise Nursing Home.
The morning she died, May gave her porridge for breakfast, and then a glass of Scotch. Her face lit up at the Scotch. May didn’t realise how close she was to dying but had got me in the night before she died so I did have a chance to say goodbye. May said she died very peaceful and happy.
The house I was born in, in Newtongrange, was like the ones you saw in the English soapie, “Coronation Street” – single storey grey stone; miner’s row – tiny – front yard about three feet by ten feet, and the house had two rooms. Everything was run by gas, including the lights. We had no electricity or hot water and we had to heat up the water with pots and pans. (When I returned to Scotland in 1975 for my one and only trip “back home”, I was offered this house for four hundred pounds. Hippies were buying up two or three of these houses, knocking the walls down, renovating them, and having a really nice house for 2000 pounds. These houses were apparently in great demand.)
Dad and his five brothers were coal miners, as were their father and grandfather before them. It was a bastard of a job in the early 30’s. All pick and shovel work and badly paid. Conditions were horrible. You left school at fourteen in those days, and would be started on the pit head, which is sorting stones from coal, on a conveyor belt. When you were sixteen or seventeen, they would put you down the mine for different jobs. As a wee lad, I can remember Dad coming home as black as the ace of spades. Coal dust everywhere, ingrained into his skin. To have his nightly bath, we had to boil pots and pans, as there was no running hot water. I remember Dad sitting in the wee galvanised pot pan, scrubbing, or me or mum having to scrub his back trying to get the coal off him.
When I was six years old – that would have been in 1939 – Mum, Dad and I went to live in a little town in Fife, called Tayport, which was very near to Dundee on the Firth of Tay. Mum had some sisters and a brother living there already, and some of them had work in the local spinning Mill, so perhaps that was the drawcard.
At this time, the Second World War was raging. Dad commenced work at the local airport, Leuchars, where the bombers left every night to bomb Germany. Dad never worked in the Mill. I can’t remember what he worked at after the War. I do remember that he couldn’t work much because he had coronary thrombosis, which he got from his lungs being infected through working in the coalmines. I don’t think he worked the last four or five years of his life and was on some kind of pension.
Mum must have got a job in the Tayport Mill (where her sisters worked), because that qualified us to get a Mill House (or Mill Hoose!). My main memories are of Mum working as a waitress in nearby towns’ private hotels so perhaps she didn’t work that long in the mill. Just long enough to get us a house. It was difficult to put people out once they were in them.
The Mill Hooses were really one big double storey granite building. The whole building housed twenty-four families. I think it was over a hundred years old when we moved in and you couldn’t live there unless you worked in the mill. That meant it wasn’t in the poshest part of Tayport – or housed high-class people!
Let me tell you what our living conditions were like. We had two rooms, one a bedroom and the other was the kitchen and living room. I don’t know where I slept – perhaps in the warm living room. On the other hand, perhaps with Mum and Dad? Heating was with an open coal fire, and we cooked with gas (by putting a coin in the meter). Lighting was by gas lamps.
We had a communal laundry and toilet, which four families shared. We bathed once a week in the communal laundry or in a tin bath in our living room. The toilet was under the outside stairs. Everyone trooped downstairs each morning with their full buckets, and emptied it into the toilet. Buckets like Oor Wullie – galvanised buckets. Of course, the biggest thing was people keeping the toilet clean, and making sure there was toilet paper (which was only newspapers cut up). There were always fights about it. Who didn’t clean up after they used it? Who didn’t pull the plug when they were there last?
When I left Scotland in 1950, our home still had no electricity, no toilet, no bath, and no hot water. (Cousin May remembers being invited down for the BIG EVENT of the electricity being turned on. Mum put out the horrible tasting rationed cream biscuits for this special occasion.) Even then, five years after the war ended, we were still on food and clothing rations. We were allowed something like three eggs weekly for the family, which my dad ate all to himself – I loved eggs but had to watch him eat them.
Because Mum worked as a waitress in a private hotel, she spoke what I would call “Pan Loaf”. This is a Scottish expression, which means, “speaking properly”. At that time there were only two kind of bread, Plain Bread with crust on top, and Pan Loaf which had crust all around and more expensive, so anyone who spoke correctly, or properly, like Sean Connery shall we say, spoke “Pan Loaf”. Mum did that because of her job as a waitress. Her table manners were upper class too, because she was trained to work in the private hotels. The proper way of speaking and the table manners were instilled upon me.
Mum worked away quite a bit, having to live-in for some waitress jobs. She must have had long working days, up early to serve breakfast, then lunch and finally the evening dinner. Sometimes she went to work in Elie or St Andrews, both in Fife. I can’t remember who looked after me when she went away. Must have been Dad. I can remember being what I suppose today we would call a “latch key” kid – but I had no key, and, had to wait outside for Mum or Dad to return from work, even in the Wintertime. It was bloody freezing. Standing outside maybe an hour or an hour and a half – I had nowhere else to go. (I don’t know why I didn’t go to Aunty Jenny’s, or one of Mum’s other sisters.) I hated Wintertime, waiting outside.
On one occasion, when I was still young, Mum was working in a luxurious private hotel in Elie, and I was with her because I had plaster on my legs, to straighten my legs out – there was something wrong with them. I can’t remember this incident, but she loved telling me the story.
Staying at the hotel was a very tall, distinguished gentleman with white hair and a white beard, who was considered the meanest man in the world. He went to this Elie hotel every year, and one day he walked past me as I was trying to walk around the little garden. After he passed me, I turned around and said: “Good Morning Sir”, and he tipped me a half crown. It was George Bernard Shaw! Mum couldn’t believe it. He had never tipped anyone in his life before – and was known as an old skinflint.
My Dad was of the old school – no praise – and belted me at the least excuse. It was difficult growing up – Dad was a sour puss. (You have to remember all Scottish fathers were that way, especially his father and his grandfather). They were brought up not to show emotions. He never called me by my name in my whole life. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Just “YOU BOY”, “THE BOY”, or “HEY YOU”, or such type of greeting. He never called me by my name, “Bill” or “Billy” as mum or the relatives did – EVER.
If I ever forgot to do something, or, did something like put my elbows on the table when we were eating, BANG, and Dad would knock me to the floor. Or if I stood up from the table for something, forgetting to ask, “Please may I leave the table?” BANG. I am talking about being belted with the buckle of his belt. I’d be bleeding. It was quite common at this time for kids to get a belting, and everyone was brought up the same way. Dad had been brought up that way, and his dad too. He didn’t know any better, so he just brought up me that way. I was terrified of him. Couldn’t look at him sideways.
As a young kid in Tayport, I can remember being bullied because I was an out-of-towner (or incomer). Or perhaps being “posh” or talking “pan loaf” didn’t go down very well in Tayport, either at school or in the neighbourhood where we lived. You were only a local if you were born there. Even if you had been there ten years, or twenty, you were still an incomer. You never could belong there. I was only six years old when I went to live in Tayport, and was there ten years, but I was never accepted by the locals. Probably one of the reasons I became a tyrant at school. When I look back, I realise I must have been a bit intelligent, because on my first day at Tayport Junior Secondary School, aged six, I had to read aloud from a book. The teacher said I couldn’t stay in that class, and the next day I was put into the next class up. Apparently, at my age, you weren’t supposed to be able to read that book and I could.
I didn’t mind being belted by the strap at school if I had done something wrong, but if they wanted to belt me when I hadn’t, that was another matter.
We had teachers with the nicknames of Greasy Beard and Hippo who always gave us the strap for any wrongdoing. On one particular day I was in the Arts Class, where we sat on three legged stools. I had sandshoes on, and I sat down on my stool. A fellow classmate went to sit on his stool and put it on my foot (I think on purpose). It bloody hurt and I yelled out. The teacher said, “OUT. Hold out your hand.” NO WAY! I wouldn’t have minded normally, but this time I was not in the wrong. She went and got another teacher – a male teacher. “Hold out your hand”. I repeated, “NO”. They tried to grab me to hold my hand out. I picked up my stool and said “NO, not on”, so they went and got the headmaster. When they returned, I was still holding the stool and I shouted, “The first one to come near me, I will crown them. I’m sorry but I’m in the right. I don’t mind the belt, but I am in the right.” They sent me home, where I got a hiding from my father. He sent me back to get the belt at school the next day. I didn’t miss out after all.
The way things were, if I did do something wrong at school, I’d get a hiding at school from the teacher. If I complained when I went home, my father would give me a hiding all over again for complaining. So, I couldn’t run to him for support. You wouldn’t dare. If you came home from school with a black eye, bad luck. Just the way things were. The way you were brought up.
It took Dad nine years to save eighty pounds so he could by his car – that would have been about 1949. It wasn’t a new car. It was a 1933 Austin 7, which was one of the smallest cars you could get – fabric top on it. It was flat out going 35-40 miles per hour. We had it garaged in an old shed down near the Mill Houses, but in Wintertime, we had to drain it in case the petrol or water froze. It was my job to boil kettles of water one after another, rush across the green, and fill the radiator up to try and warm the engine up. Then we started to crank it and crank it, and of course, when it did go, it looked like it had kangaroo petrol, “ktk ktk ktk” up the hill. Dad was the only one with a car in that whole area. That was something else to separate us from the neighbours.
I was in his car only a few times. I remember riding my bike to Perth with a friend – I must have been about twelve or thirteen at the time. Would you believe we met Mum and Dad in their car with friends? Then the fog came down badly and I had to walk my bike in front of their car, for about five miles, so they could follow me. I didn’t mind. I thought it was great fun. They followed slowly behind watching my tail light. Like I said, I wasn’t in the car very much.
I got on well with Mum. She didn’t beat me – just a couple of smacks, but nothing dramatic. She was usually on my side.
Mum enjoyed her life as a waitress, and she and Dad had a good social life. Because Dad played the piano accordion really well, he was in popular demand, and was invited to play at many social functions. Mum and Dad went to these together, and sometimes I had to go too – to carry the damn piano accordion. It was a big one – twenty bass. Sometimes I it felt like my arm was growing longer and longer carrying it up the hill to the British Legion or one of those places. It was mainly in Tayport where Dad played. Although he was quite popular because he was a good player, he still was a bit of a loner. I never knew him as a person.
Early morning tatty picking is another thing I remember in my youth in Tayport. Potato picking was so important that the school was given 6-8 weeks off for the potato picking period – these were not school holidays. They relied on the school kids to pick potatoes. Kids started potato picking as soon as they could. Everybody in the village joined in. People 50, 60, 70 years old people would do it. Whole families would go potato picking – even my mum and my aunties would go, as they needed the money. It was hard work. Bloody hard work! We would be picked up in a truck, or a bogie pulled by a tractor, which usually had about forty kids on board, with their feet dangling out the side. We would be taken one or two miles out of Tayport to the potato farms. The furthest farm would only be seven or eight miles away. The allotted area each full adult was given to pick potatoes was “a bit and a half bit”. A child would get half of that space. You had to stride it out. The tractor would come along, and you had to pick up the potatoes after the tractor went past. You put them in something like a big cane laundry basket or a basin and then a man would come along with a horse and cart, and you had to tip it into his cart. If you didn’t pick up fast enough, the tractor would be on its way around again, and come up behind you. We used to try to think up ways to stop the tractor – put a few things in its way – slow it down!
We got three quarters of an hour off at lunchtime. At this time, we kids went hunting near the farm looking for eggs, to try to pick up the eggs before the farmers got to them. That supplemented our food and our budgets. You were also allowed to take a bag to bring potatoes home with you. The money was so welcome and so were the potatoes. We had quite a few Dougals living in Lochgelly (this was about thirty miles from Tayport, and I enjoyed cycling there, even when I was only ten or eleven. Sometimes I would go to Lochgelly on my own, catching the bus. I would go as often as I could. I liked visiting my aunts and uncles in Lochgelly with Mum and Dad too. Uncle Jock was very nice. My dad was the oldest, and Uncle Jock the next one down. I got on very well with him. I liked the Dougals, especially Peter Dougal in Lochgelly. He was about my own age. He died quite a long time ago with lung cancer – he was a heavy smoker.
The Dougal relatives weren’t ‘pan loaf’. What I am going to tell you might sound strange to you. Sometimes when I visited them, they would offer me a piece of bread. The loaf would be standing up on its end, and then they smeared the top of it with margarine or butter. Then they cut a big chunk off, from the top, and hand it to me. If the tea was too hot, they poured it into their saucer and drank it from the saucer. They would all sit with their saucers in their hands slurping their stewed tea. It looked ridiculous, but looking back now, they didn’t know any better. But we didn’t do it my in my house. No way – not with our table manners!
When I was fourteen years old, I joined the Dundee Sea Cadets. I was desperate to join the Navy when I was old enough. I went to school in Tayport until I was 15 years old, and then worked in various jobs. I didn’t like any of them. One day when I was 16 years old, I saw an advertisement in the Dundee papers saying that they were interviewing young boys to be accepted as midshipmen in England, to be taught to become Junior Navy officers. I talked Mum and Dad into letting me apply. I went up to Dundee on my own. When I entered the big building, I joined a queue of about forty boys about my age waiting to be interviewed. I had all my references and School Certificate with me. When it came to my turn to be interviewed, the people interviewing me kept talking about Australia. I woke up eventually that I was in the wrong room on the wrong floor. But by this time, I had become very interested. They were an organisation called the Big Brother Movement and were inviting boys to migrate to Australia. We boys would become “Little Brothers” and would be sponsored by “Big Brothers”.
I went home and talked Mum and Dad into letting me go to Australia with the Big Brother Movement – if I was accepted. I had to get their permission and more references from the school. (Funny thing was, when I went to the school for the references for the Big Brother Movement, I got the most terrific recommendations from my teachers and my headmaster. I was amazed. They said, “I was the ideal boy for migration”. I had to laugh.) The idea was if I liked Australia, Mum and Dad would follow by migrating after me. I didn’t know it at that time, that Dad had a conviction against his name, and would never have been able to migrate to Australia. I am still amazed today thinking of Mum and Dad letting their only child migrate to Australia, when they knew they could never follow him.
The Big Brother Movement accepted me (must have been the good school references), and Dad took me to Dundee on the old steam train from Tayport, to see me off. From there, I joined a few “Little Brothers”, caught another steam train from Dundee to London, then to Southampton, to board the ship.
Dad died suddenly of a heart attack on 25 September 1959, while playing his piano accordion at the British Legion Club in Tayport when he was only fifty-nine years of age. After he died, Mum found Dad’s train ticket that he bought the day he said goodbye to me, when I left for Australia. It was still in his wallet – nearly nine years after I left.
He had kept it all that time, and Mum hadn’t known that until after his death. Perhaps he did love me?
Mum came to Australia to join my wife and me a few years after his death.
PART TWO: AUSTRALIA – THE BUSH
It was about June 1950 when the ship arrived in Sydney. But the trip on the ship to get there was quite interesting. Six or eight people to a cabin – third class of course – the lowest. We came through the Suez but we weren’t allowed off there. There was a war going on.
We stopped at Aden, and then Colombo, Ceylon.
Local groups would come and take us out on excursions – even in Colombo. Everywhere we went we had people meeting us – the Big Brother Movement was very powerful in those days.
When I got off the ship in Perth and saw sunshine and felt the warmth – I thought it was beautiful. Perth even then was a beautiful place. It really was. They didn’t have the skyscrapers they have now.
When I went into town, the first meal I ordered in a café was a dozen eggs. I ate them all. The owner of the café was so surprised; he wouldn’t charge me for them. I was so starved of eggs and loved them.
Through The Big Brother Movement “Little Brothers” were being brought out to work on the land. They would choose young men with a little bit of knowledge about the land. I lied a little bit about being a tractor driver, which I wasn’t. I also lied about being able to ride horses, which I couldn’t. That’s how it worked out. That’s how I was.
Many of the boys stayed in Australia. The others got so homesick, or failed in everything, that they went home. Twenty-four boys were in our group, mostly from England On our arrival at our destination – Sydney – we were put up at a farm about thirty miles from the city while the BBM found jobs for us in the bush.
BBM put me onto a train by myself to go to a small town called Berrigan, about four hundred and fifty miles from Sydney. You have to remember that Scotland is only eighty miles wide, so I thought I would never get to Berrigan.
What hit me dramatically when I got to Berrigan was the landscape. It was as flat as a billiard table. You couldn’t see anything – there was nothing but a funny shimmering haze like the one you see on roads. There was a railway line going through about two miles away, and the way the heat hit it, like a mirage, the train was 20 or 30 feet in the air, you thought. I couldn’t get over this. The locals asked me if I missed mountains, and I answered, “At least you can see where you are going here”. They liked that.
I was sent to a sheep and wheat station – very small by Australian standards, 25,000 acres, but big by Scotland’s farms. It was run by two brothers, the Leary Brothers, and their son, who was about twenty years old. Boy, did we work hard. They paid me 2 pounds 5 shillings a week, which was roughly $6.00 in today’s money. It included all meals and two hours off for church on Sundays. We worked from sunrise to sunset – I really mean sunrise to sunset – 4-5 am until 10 pm at night. Conditions were dreadful. The meal was the same every day – mutton, and mutton, and more mutton – from the sheep they killed themselves. No eggs. They had dozens of chooks, but they sold the eggs, so they were not available for us lads.
On some farms, we had to do irrigation – it was hard work. The water would be pumped in open channels, and my job was go on a horse from point to point, dig out and let the water run onto the paddock and then go back and do it again – so you are continuously doing it throughout the heat – usually for the wheat farms. The farmers were surprisingly wealthy, and both brothers drove V8 Plymouth cars. They worked for it of course. (I went back 10-15 years after looking for them, and the place has been sold and broke up – didn’t stay in the family after all those years. Don’t know what happened.)
Hay stooking was another hard and physical job I had to do. You had to throw it up on to the truck. If you didn’t do it fast enough, they threw it back at you in your face, and the hay was sharp. You would have pricks all over your face. You had to throw it back up again higher, and it was pretty hard work for a young kid. I was a skinny little runt in those days. So, it was a bit tough. I didn’t notice the heat. The food was dreadful. We used to get up at 4 or 5 am go out in the field, come back about 7 or 8 pm – mutton chops on the grill – and that was everyday. I have never had mutton since. Can’t stand it, especially mutton chops. We are talking of tough as old Nelly. They killed their own sheep and tried to show me how to skin the sheep, and I didn’t like that very much – cutting their throats and hanging out in the tree. Then trying to get them back in before the blow flies got to them. There were a lot of flies.
All the places had a dam on the farm. One night I went down to the farm and got bitten and thought what the hell is that. I was getting bitten all over, and the boss said you shouldn’t be out at this time of night. The mosquitoes will get you. I had heard of them, but hadn’t seen them before. You don’t get mosquitoes in Scotland. Sand flies were another problem.
I only saw one snake in all the time I was in the bush. And that was when I was in the shearing shed. I was a rouse-about and had the Sunday off. Meals were excellent at this place and the money was excellent. 13-14-15 pound a week, when everyone else was getting five or six. But you worked. That included our food.
On Sunday, they were going pig hunting. They invited me along. Nobody told me the rules, and I didn’t know. You crept up; keep about two miles away from the waterhole, lots of trees and shrubs, and you creep up – about 10 or 12 of us. When we saw the pig, you chased it and grabbed it by the hind leg. Nobody told me that piglets we were supposed to catch. We would take them back alive back to the farm/station and feed them up give them normal tucker and kill them and eat them as pork.
But I grabbed the boar, and it was a big ugly boar with tusks, and I am hanging on like grim death. They thought it was the funniest thing, and I am yelling for help, and I was not going to let go, as I would be in trouble. It was as big as a huge dog, so eventually they came and got it from me. You have to pick the little ones. You didn’t tell me. They are dangerous things boars. But you learn all these things as you go along.
Overall, I don’t think the “Little Brothers” were treated too badly throughout New South Wales, except some of the farmers were a bit cruel to them. The boys were open to abuse, such as whipping (although the farmers even whipped their own sons if they didn’t work hard enough).
At one farm, the owners of the farm started to turn on me. I said, hang on, I don’t like this very much, and got nervous and left. The Big Brother Movement did understand. They crossed these people off their list. “They don’t get another boy from us.” They were very tough.
After roughly seven or eight months on one farm, I left and went back to BBM farm outside Sydney where I decided to take matters into my own hands. When I told the Big Brother Movement, I was leaving them, they just laughed and said I would be all right, being the type of person I was.
I was not allowed out of New South Wales and supposed to be under their jurisdiction until I was 21. But they didn’t seem to worry about me.
I took off to the bush heading north; mostly hitch hiking around the main roads, to places like Dubbo and Orange and Wagga Wagga. I worked at any job I could find, labourer, waiter, railway loader, until I came to a small town called Mumbil.
Talking to some men in the local pub, I asked if there was any work around. They told me apply to the Chief Engineer at the dam project and tell him that I was a driller, and that I had experience in rock drills. So, I went the next morning, applied for the job, and was put on right away.
The engineer then introduced me to my gang of labourers, all Italians, aged about 40-50 years old. I was 18 but told them I was 21. I had no idea what to do, so I told the gang to show me what they could do, and I would supervise and see how good they were. It worked. So, I became a driller, learning as I watched what they did.
You must remember, I was getting nearly double the wages that they were, because I was a qualified driller, and they were just labourers. The work lasted six months then we were all paid off, after the dam was completed. We all went off in different directions.
By the way, there were a lot of segregation there at that time. You had Yugoslavs in one section, Germans in another one, Italians and Scots in another one. I was put in the Scots one – but they were Glaswegians and as rough as guts. They really were. They would pick on the Italians, including my gang, and I didn’t like that, so I sided with the Italians. I decided to move in with the Italians, which was unheard of. They were lovely fellows.
I then headed north towards Walgett and Bourke, which are at the end of the railway line from Sydney. I worked as a waiter in the local pub, timber cutting, anything that was offered.
In Walgett, I worked as a roustabout in the shearing shed for nearly seven weeks. My job was to pick up the fleece, just shorn, and throw it onto a table where the sorters assessed the wool for baking. There were twelve shearers, so it was a pretty hectic job.
Then, later on, in Bourke, I took on a timber cutters job. The boss took me to a station called Piga Piga, 42 miles out of Bourke, dropped me off in a paddock with a tent, four axes, a 44 drum of water, tinned spam, beans and a few other provisions, and said he would be back in a few weeks.
My work was to cut down by axe 20-foot trees, which had been ring barked, trim into 7 ft lengths ready for transport, as firewood. I became very handy with my axe (chainsaws weren’t available in those years). I was very lonely by myself with no one around for miles. It was a long way – seven miles – from any road or traffic.
After three or four weeks, the boss brought another timber cutter to join me, with his own tent and equipment. He was nearly sixty years old, but very fit. He also brought with him a few flagons of port, which he drank every evening. After about four days, of working together, I got up at dawn and he wasn’t anywhere to be found. His bunk hadn’t been slept in. I looked around nearly all day but couldn’t find him. The next morning, he was still missing, so I decided to walk the seven miles to the road, got a lift to Bourke, and notified the police about him being missing.
The police came out to our camp with two black trackers and began a search for him. Two days later, they came and told me they had found him nearly nine miles away in the bush – dead – partly eaten by wild pigs. That changed my idea of cutting timber by myself in the bush.
I also had a mental picture of cutting myself badly with an axe or breaking a leg and having to wait four or five days for my boss to visit to find me. So, I quit. Time to move on.
I packed my suitcase and headed out of Bourke towards Queensland. Not realising how little traffic travels the back roads to the border, it took me nearly six hours walking in the sun, before a mail truck came along.
I had better explain about a mail truck. A mail truck goes around the sheep stations every two or three weeks, carrying fuel, groceries, mail, and virtually everything the station people need to survive. The truck driver was overjoyed to see me and happy to give me a ride. I wondered why. I found out why at our first station. Every paddock had gates that must be opened to let the truck through, and then closed behind them. I am talking 10-15 gates just to get to the homestead. So that was my job, and I sure saved the driver a lot of work.
Two days later, we reached Hungerford on the Queensland/New South Wales border, where we said goodbye, and the truck went back to Bourke.
I booked into the one and only pub in town. I was only in the bar about two hours when a cocky (a farmer) came in asking for volunteers to help fight a bushfire near his property. So, mug me volunteered, never having seen a bushfire before. The cocky took me out to his station nearly seventy miles along the border, where I joined about two hundred men with fire trucks and catering vans to fight the fire. The problem was that the fire was too big to fight being nearly 80-100 miles across, so all we could do was follow it at night putting out what the fire had left behind. This went on for days and days, sleeping during the day and working at night – the heat and the fire was too much to tackle in the daytime.
The area fire trucks were getting too far from their own territory and started turning back so I decided to go back with them to Hungerford (it took four days to get there).
From there I hitched a lift to Cunnamulla in Queensland and called into the local police station asking about any work in town. The local sergeant was really nice and gave me a quid to get a meal in the local café, and told me to come back that he would find something for me. Well the job he got me was at the Cunnamulla Hospital: part orderly – part morgue attendant, and I had to live in at the morgue.
I grew up very quickly, washing dead bodies (no refrigeration), burning stillborn babies and throwing limbs into the furnace, shaving patients (nipples to the knees) ready for operations, driving the ambulance (no Drivers License). As I said, I learnt a lot in a short time. I worked there for maybe eight months, but got the wanderlust again, caught a plane to Sydney, and so my life changed again, maybe not for the better.
PART THREE: AUSTRALIA – THE CITIES
I became a presser in a dry-cleaning factory, then at David Jones. At the same time I became a Bodgie. Flash haircut, peg pants, jive and jitterbug nearly every night (I won a few dancing competitions.)
In the meantime, I was fighting, by letter, with Mum and Dad who wanted me to come back to Scotland, saying they had changed their mind about migrating. I had said no way would I return to that way of life – no work, cold weather, no prospects. I quite happily spent my time in Kings Cross working at slightly illegal jobs, sly grog, unlawful casinos, and baccarat.
Lee Gordon was a big promoter in those days. (He later committed suicide.) He used to bring out people like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. They would do concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. Lee would hold parties after the Sydney concerts at plush hotels, and I would con my way into these parties. One night, I met Frank bringing his daughter, Nancy, who was about sixteen, into the hotel. She was very heavily made up. He always had his minders with him. “Anyone who puts a hand on my daughter Nancy will have his bloody arm broken off.” No one dared to go near her. She was willing, but no one was game.
Kings Cross didn’t have brothels in those days, but they did have “working girls”. I was friendly with all the girls. I treated them nicely as persons. I was quite well liked by them and knew them all by name.
I started a business up in Sydney – a very strange business. I was very well known at the Cross for always being there and knowing everything that was going on – not drugs or anything. I had a business card made up. (I would love to have one now.) On it, I had printed, “If you want to see something, or do something, buy something or sell something, see the man at the Cross in the tartan waistcoat.” I used to wear black trousers, black shirt, black shoes, and a tartan waistcoat.
The taxi drivers would stop and ask, “Wayne, where can I find some………………” I would send them to someone for the item they were after. I would charge them a pound. Then, when I saw the person I sent them to, I would get a pound from them. I was making money – I really was making money.
One day, I was in a café in Kings Cross, and a man came in and asked, “Are you the man?” I said I “yes”. I stood out the way I was dressed! “I had my van knocked off full of cigarettes.” I said, “Yeah”. He asked if I could find them. He said the insurance company was offering a 250 pound reward (which was a lot of money), and he would like to get the truck back for he needed it for his job. So, I asked around, knowing everybody.
I found the two blokes who knocked it off. It had been garaged intact. So, I made a deal with them. I rang the insurance company. I told them I had heard about the reward and confirmed that it was 250 pounds. I told them I could get hold of it for them. They asked me if it was “intact”. I was able to tell them, yes. I went back to the fellas and said, “Right. 150 pound for you – no questions asked. Give me the van back. You won’t get charged. No cops. No nothing. OKAY.” So the insurance company gave me 250 pounds, which was 100 pounds for me. I started making a little business out of this.
But then they started knocking things off and coming to me to go to the insurance company. Now that is not on. I didn’t like what was going on. No – I wasn’t on the right side of the law now.
It was about that time, just out of curiosity, I went to the General Delivery at the GPO, to see if there was any mail for me. I found a letter from my Aunty Jenny saying she, Uncle Chick, cousins Nicky, and May had migrated to Melbourne in Victoria. So, I decided now was the time to leave Sydney and see what Melbourne had to offer. Some of the family thought I had been in trouble with the police and that was why I went to Melbourne. But I wasn’t pushed or anything, at least not at that time.
I never felt homesick, not once. I think I was so glad to be away from Dad – sorry about that Dad – but it is true. I was free, and that was my way. I thought it was terrific. I found out since that there was no chance of my dad ever migrating out here. Dad was assistant stationmaster at the Newport railway station. The big thing at home was coal – we had coal fires. Dad and his work mate used to pick up the coal from the tracks that was left over from the trains going past, and there was a haversack there full of coal. Inspectors came along and grabbed this. It wasn’t Dad’s but his mate’s, who had five children, and he was going to be fired. So he begged dad to take the rap for him, and dad did, and got convicted for stealing coal. Got fired, and even with that small conviction, you cannot migrate to Australia. I never realised until years later, but that why he could not come.
So off I went on the road again and landed on Aunty Jenny and Uncle Chic’s doorstep in Summerhill Road, West Footscray. They welcomed me with open arms, but I will admit that Uncle Chick wasn’t impressed with my taste in music (rock and roll) or clothes.
Perhaps others weren’t impressed either? When I went to the Town Hall dances at Moonee Ponds and Coburg, they wouldn’t let me in because I was dressed too loud – peg pants and different colour cuffs on my trousers.
I got a job as a presser at London Stores in the city and settled down a bit, but went dancing every weekend, and had a pretty good time.
I went back on holiday to Sydney after about a year in Melbourne, and then I did get in trouble. Not really in trouble – but funny.
I had gone broke in the first five days in Sydney and went back to the sly grog company. The pubs shut at six o’clock, and we opened at five minutes past six. The people were so stupid. They never bought their grog from the pub until it was too late, and then they would come along to me in the cab. “A dozen beer thanks.” And we would charge like wounded bulls. But there was no place to buy beer. No nightclubs. No licensed restaurants. We charged something like seven pounds for a dozen bottles of beer, which would only cost us two pounds in the shop. A bottle of port or sherry – say a quid, would cost us 3/6d. We made a lot of money.
So, there I was again standing outside on a corner, waiting for a cab to pull up. This went on fine for the first few days, and I was getting paid seven to eight pound a night – which is a lot of money.
The rules then were quite different. If you got pinched by the cops you got convicted of selling sly grog, or whatever it happened to be. You paid your own fine – 25 pounds. Now and again, they had to knock you off. The guy across the road in the wheelchair said, “Wayne, we are getting knocked off tomorrow.” “You are joking.” “It has been set up. You are taking the rap.” he replied. If the sly grog people don’t pay my fine, I cop the conviction and I am in trouble. The “big boys” came around every hour and took all the notes off me. I had a big beer barrel for all the coins – and I had a lot of coin, because people would buy a bottle of sherry or bottle of port. I teed up a cabby, during the Saturday night, and gave him my address and key. “I want you back here with my luggage at 11 am Sunday morning, and there’s a quid in it for you.” Cabbies would be in anything – and he said OK. I was going to be pinched at 12. I put my pants into my socks and filled my pants with coins, as many as I could get in there. Coins everywhere. I looked like the Michelin man. When the cab pulled up, I jumped in, and went to the airport. Seven pound for a single on the plane. I paid my fare by coin. I put them in an overnight bag, which weighed a ton – about 50 pounds in silver. I paid it all in two bob and half crowns. The air hostess tried to lift it up but couldn’t. Left it at my feet.
I had the police against me. The local sly grog mafia. So, I didn’t go back to Sydney for a long time.
I did it as a joke – calling myself Wayne Pierre De Gaulle.
PART FOUR: AUSTRALIA – IDA and the rest of my life
Back in Melbourne!
One day when I was out of work, I applied for a job at Golden Glory as a presser, and that’s where I met Ida. She had been working there since she left school at 15 and was now in her late teens. What I didn’t know was – she was engaged. I kept asking her out and she kept saying no, but I wore her down, until one day she asked me who I barracked for in football. I didn’t know what she was talking about. She said if we go out together, I would have to follow Carlton Football Club, so our first date was at a football match at the old Fitzroy Ground at a game between Fitzroy and Carlton, with her mum and best friend Evelyn.
Ida was the complete opposite of me. She was a square. Everyone thought she was sophisticated, and she was demure and loved ballroom dancing. I was a bodgie, into jive and rock’n roll and definitely not into ballroom dancing.
The rest is history. We were married on Boxing Day 26th December 1959. I was 26, and Ida was 21. Our marriage worked for 43 years, even though we were opposites.
We went to Sydney for a week’s honeymoon and came back with ten shillings to our name. We rented a couple of rooms in Ascot Vale with Chick and Jean my cousins, also George and Annette were just down the road.
I started working as a furniture truck driver at Myers in Footscray along with Nicky and the rest of the crowd.
Ida got a temporary job at Cork & Seals in Flemington and stayed there for twenty-five years. I became a car salesman and worked everywhere. Typical me.
When Dad died of a heart attack, Mum came to live with Ida and me for a while, and then she moved in with her sister Aunty Jenny and family.
I would like to add now that Terri was born first and I treated her more like a son than a daughter, flying kites, and throwing boomerangs. But she turned out a beautiful, lovely girl, all the same.
Five years later, came our twins Penny and Mandy – an unexpected surprise. Being two of them, I mean.
So now, the family was complete.The rest of my life was pretty straightforward. We struggled financially but we managed to pay our bills.
I looked after Ida when she got crook. Until then, I was a male chauvinist pig. I was the most dreadful husband and father. I was too strict with the kids. Funnily, they turned out all right, and say we they were glad that I was strict. I would never lift a hand in the house. I would come home all hours being in the car selling trade. When Ida got crook, I started looking after her. First of all, it was her breathing. In the end when she was starting to get really bad with the cancer, I had to get her out of bed, take her to the toilet, washed her clothes, and did everything in the house. Do you know Ida started to complain? I was being too nice. She wasn’t used to me being like that. “Why can’t you be the way you usually are? I am not quite sure about you like this”. I thought it strange!
I haven’t caught up with any of the guys I met when I was with Big Brother Movement. They still send me magazines. They send kids to Britain now; they are not allowed to come here anymore. They sponsor kids to do work experience and come back to Australia.
When I went back to Scotland in 1975, with Uncle Chic I hired the biggest flashiest car I could find. Local boy makes good. Uncle Chic had been gone twenty years, and he met a lady he knew. He shouted, “Hello Elsie”. She turned around and said, “Hello Chic”. He said, “Elsie It’s me”, and she said, “Yes I know.” No-one said: “Welcome Back Nice to see you again”, NO – just “Hello Chic” – just another day as far as they were concerned. He was disappointed and so was I.
Cousin May went back to the Mill Hooses in 2004. When she stopped outside, the people living in them were standing on their steps talking. They were curious why she was there looking. When she told them her cousin, Billy Dougal, and his parents lived there many years ago, they told her exactly which house I lived in, and how we had moved into another one later on. Perhaps I was finally accepted as a Tayportian.
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